Hammertoe is a condition in which the toes of your feet become contracted into an upside-down "V" shape, causing pain, pressure and, often, corns and calluses. Hammer toes can develop on any of the toes, but Hammer toe generally affects the middle three toes, most often the second toe. The bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons of your feet normally are well-balanced to distribute your body's weight while standing, walking and running. When the first and second joints of your toes experience the prolonged stress that develops when the muscles that control them fail to work together properly, the pressure on the tendons that support them can lead to the curling or contraction known as hammertoe.
Certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing a hammertoe. These include a family history of hammertoes, wearing tight or pointy-toed shoes, wearing shoes that are too small, having calluses, bunions, or corns (thickened layers of skin caused by prolonged/repeated friction) Wearing shoes that are too small can force the joint of your toes into a dislocated position. This makes it impossible for your muscles to stretch out. Over time, the practice of wearing improperly fitting shoes increases your risk of developing hammertoes, blisters, bunions, and corns.
Common reasons patients seek treatment for toe problems are toe pain on the knuckle. Thick toe calluses. Interference with walking/activities. Difficulty fitting shoes. Worsening toe deformity. Pain at the ball of the foot. Unsightly appearance. Toe deformities (contractures) come in varying degrees of severity, from slight to severe. The can be present in conjunction with a bunion, and develop onto a severe disfiguring foot deformity. Advanced cases, the toe can dislocate on top of the foot. Depending on your overall health, symptoms and severity of the hammer toe, the condition may be treated conservatively and/or with surgery.
First push up on the bottom of the metatarsal head associated with the affected toe and see if the toe straightens out. If it does, then an orthotic could correct the problem, usually with a metatarsal pad. If the toe does not straighten out when the metatarsal head is pushed up, then that indicates that contracture in the capsule and ligaments (capsule contracts because the joint was in the wrong position for too long) of the MTP joint has set in and surgery is required. Orthotics are generally required post-surgically.
Non Surgical Treatment
Pad it. Mild cases of hammertoe can be treated with corn pads or felt pads available in the pharmacy. Toe caps, the small, padded sleeves that fit around the tip of the toe, may relieve hammer toe pain. Change your shoes. Wear wide shoes with resilient soles. Avoid shoes with pointed toes. Exercise. Certain exercises such as moving and stretching your toe gently with your hands and picking small or soft objects such as marbles or towels can keep your toe joints flexible. Also, while you are watching television or reading, you can also put a towel flat under your feet and use your toes to crumple it. This simple exercise can stretch and strengthen your muscles. Use ice. If your hammer toe becomes painful, applying an ice pack several times a day can help relieve the soreness and swelling.
Take medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (also called NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be helpful in minimizing pain and inflammation. Use orthotic devices. Place a custom orthotic device in your shoe. This will help control the muscle/tendon imbalance.
If your hammer, claw, or mallet toe gets worse, or if nonsurgical treatment does not help your pain, you may think about surgery. The type of surgery you choose depends on how severe your condition is and whether the toe joint is fixed (has no movement) or flexible (has some movement). A fixed toe joint often requires surgery to be straightened. A flexible toe joint can sometimes be straightened without surgery. Surgery choices include Phalangeal head resection (arthroplasty), in which the surgeon removes part of the toe bone. Joint fusion (arthrodesis), in which the surgeon removes part of the joint, letting the toe bones grow together (fuse). Cutting supporting tissue or moving tendons in the toe joint. How well surgery works depends on what type of surgery you have, how experienced your surgeon is, and how badly your toes are affected.
Avoid wearing shoes that are too short or narrow. Check children's shoe sizes often, especially during periods of fast growth. If you have hammer toe, call for an appointment with your health care provider. If you develop thick blisters or corns on your toes, if your pain gets worse, if you have difficulty walking call for an appointment with your health care provider.